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1960 Olympic Games Roma, Italy - Men's Marathon



Host City: Roma, Italy Format: 42,195 metres (26 miles, 385 yards) point-to-point.
Date Started: September 10, 1960
Date Finished: September 10, 1960
(Competitors: 69; Countries: 35)
Venue(s): Arch of Constantine, Roma
Overview by IAAF  1960_olympico_stadio1.jpg
The largest field in Olympic history set off at 17:30, the late start being an attempt to miss the heat of the day. Rhadi, the International Cross Country Champion, Bikila, Arthur Keily (GBR), and Aurele Vandendriessche (BEL) were the early leaders, passing 5Km in 15:35, and 15Km in 48:02. By 20Km Rhadi and the barefoot Bikila were 26 seconds ahead of Vandendriessche in 1:02:39, and the Belgian retired shortly afterwards. The two leaders passed halfway in an unheard of 1:06:40. By 30Km (1:34:29) the two men were 2:23 clear of Magee and race favourite Popov. At 40Km they were still 1:26 ahead of Magee, who was now 1:46 clear of Vorobyov. Along the torchlit Appian way, Bikila opened a 50m gap with a kilometre remaining, and he extended the lead to 150m by the finish at the Arch of Constantine – a wonderfully dramatic setting for the close of an Olympic marathon. Bikila had beaten Popov’s world best of 2:15:17 by less than a second. Bikila, an international unknown, won the Ethiopian trials race at altitude in 2:21:23 a month earlier by nine minutes, a prelude to the first ever gold medal for Ethiopia.
Summary by
The 1960 Olympic marathon is probably the most unusual marathon in Olympic history. It is the only Olympic marathon that neither started, nor finished at the Olympic stadium. The race started in the late afternoon and finished in the dark, the course lit by torches to illuminate the route. And it was won by a man running barefooted.
The race started at 5:30 PM at the Piazza di Campidoglio, one of Roma's seven hills. The course was a triangular loop, running along many of the wonders of Ancient Roma. The course passed along the Caracalla Baths, ran down the Appian Way, and finished under the Arch of Constantine, in the dark.
The favorite was probably the Soviet runner, Sergey Popov, who on 11 October 1959, at the Košice Marathon in Czechoslovakia, had become the second runner under 2-20, breaking the world record with 2-17:45.2. The early lead was taken by the Belgian Aurèle Vandendriessche, who had won five Belgian titles since 1956. He was joined by a small group that included Britain's Arthur Keily, and two African runners, Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila and the Moroccan, Rhadi Ben Abdesselam. Bikila was unusual as he was running the race barefoot. By 20 km. Bikila and Rhadi had taken the lead, and they would run together until near the stadium. At about 500 metres from the finish, at the Piazza di Porta Capena, running down the torchlit way, Bikila finally broke Rhadi and pulled away to win the race by 25 seconds. It was ironic that Bikila made his move as he passed the Obelisco di Azum, which had been brought to the square from Ethiopia after the Italian invasion of that nation by Mussolini. The bronze medal was won by New Zealand's Barry Magee, with two Soviet runners following – Konstantin Vorobyov in 4th and Popov in 5th.
Bikila would return to run the Olympic marathon again in 1964, winning in world record time. By then he would be acclaimed as the greatest marathoner ever, and many experts still give him that title. In his career, he ran 15 marathons between 1959-68, winning 12 of the first 13, but not finishing his last two, which included his final race at the 1968 Olympics. He would later be severely injured in a car crash, and rendered quadriparetic, dying in the early 1970s.


There were a lot of complaints about the heat in Rome. Marathoners, of course, are especially vulnerable to heat. Organizers, rather than scheduling in the early morning, started this race in the late afternoon, when it is much warmer. An additional problem with this start time was that the runners would be finishing in the dark. To accommodate television, “hundreds of torchbearers were put in place along both sides of the road to guide the runners.” (Martin & Gynn, Olympic Marathon, p.231) This lighting combined with the route through historic Rome provided a unique marathon setting. 

Apart from one climb at a crucial stage of the race (between 22K and 30K), the course was relatively flat. But runners had to cope with many bends and some very narrow streets. Still, the heat was the main issue. 

Perhaps the most fancied runner was Sergei Popov, the current fastest-ever marathoner who had achieved his mark in the 1958 Euros. Dave Power was also expected to be at the front, but he fell ill and didn’t run. Then there was Rhadi ben Abdesselem of Morocco, who had run well in the 10,000. In the final analysis, the winner would be the runner who could best deal with the heat. 

The field of 70 started in the Piazza  de Campidoglio when the temperature was 23.2C. After a chaotic first few Ks, when the massed runners had to dodge monuments and cross uneven piazzas, Arthur Keily of Great Britain and Aurele Vandendriessche of Belgium led. Close on their heels were two North Africans, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, who was running barefoot, and Rhadi of Morocco. These four runners led the field through 5K (15:35) and 10K (31:07). While Keily and Vandendriessche took turns leading, Bikila and Rhadi were happy to follow closely. They passed 15K in 48:02. 

There were big changes in the next 5K. At 20K Rhadi and Bikila (1:02:39) had almost a 30-second lead. Vandendriessche (1:03:05) and Keily (1:03:20) had lost a lot of ground. (I question this official 5K time as I do subsequent ones: a jump from 15:32 pace to 14:37 pace, seems unlikely at this stage of the race.) And behind the first four in 1:03:41 were Popov of the USSR, Magee of New Zealand, Kunen of Hommand and Bakir of Morocco. And over the next 5K two of this group, Popov and Magee, moved into third and fourth places, but they were 1:24 behind the two leaders. Keily was hanging on to fifth place, but Vandendriessche was falling back and soon abandoned the race. 

The gap between the two leading pairs increase to 2:23 by 30K. (According to the official 5K splits, Bikila and Rhadi completed this uphill stretch in 13:42!) In fifth and sixth places were another pair, Bakir and Mihalic of Yugoslavia (1:37:51).  Magee, who had shadowed Popov to move through the field early on, now escaped the Russian at a drink station. Now running on his own, Magee gained a little on the leading pair, passing 35K in 1:52:29, 2:02 behind the leaders. Moving up to fifth Vorobiev of the USSR now had Popov in his sights. At this stage of the race, Magee was running faster than anyone else. In the next 5K he closed the gap to 1:26, as Bikila and Rhadi passed 40K in 2:08:33. 

Bikila and Rhadi duel along the Appian Way.

Shortly before 40K, Rhadi tried unsuccessfully to break away from Bikila. Bikila himself waited until the last 500 to make his effort; Rhadi was unable to respond and allowed the Ethiopian to build a 24-second lead by the finish. Bikila’s time of  2:15:16.2 was just 0.8 faster than Popov’s World Best. Also, Bikila was the first to break 2:20 in an Olympic marathon.

Behind the two North Africans, Barry Magee finished strongly for the bronze. Behind him Vorobiev comfortably beat his compatriot Popov. It is worth noting that four North Africans finished in the top eight—one of the first indications that North African distance runners were to dominate the sport in years to come. 

1. Abebe Bikila ETH 2:15:16.2; 2. Rhadi ben Abdesselem MOR 2:15:41.6; 3. Barry Magee NZL 2:17:18.2; 4. Konstantin Vorobiev USSR 2:19:09; 5. Sergei Popov USSR 2:19:19.8; 6. Thyge Torgerson DEN 2:21:03.4.   


Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, Abebe Bikila, Barry Magee 1960.jpg
Left-right: Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, Abebe Bikila, Barry Magee
Marathon Men Final 10 September
Rank Mark Athlete Country NOC Age Records Notes
1 2-15.16.2 Abebe Bikila Ethiopia ETH 28 WB
2 2-15.41.6 Rhadi Ben Abdesselam Morocco MAR 31
3 2-17.18.2 Barry Magee New Zealand NZL 26
4 2-19.09.6 Konstantin Vorobyov Soviet Union URS 29
5 2-19.18.8 Sergey Popov Soviet Union URS 29
6 2-21.03.4 Thyge Thøgersen Denmark DEN 33
7 2-21.09.4 Abebe Wakgira Ethiopia ETH 38
8 2-21.21.4 Bakir Ben Aissa Morocco MAR 29
9 2-21.26.6 Osvaldo Suárez Argentina ARG 26
10 2-21.40.2 Luka Škrinjar Yugoslavia YUG 40
11 2-21.49.4 Nikolay Rumyantsev Soviet Union URS 30
12 2-21.52.6 Franjo Mihalić Yugoslavia YUG 40
13 2-22.58.6 Keith James South Africa RSA 25
14 2-22.59.8 Pavel Kantorek Czechoslovakia TCH 30
15 2-23.00.0 Gumersindo Gómez Argentina ARG 31
16 2-24.16.2 Sonny O'Gorman Great Britain GBR 32
17 2-24.17.4 Miguel Navarro Spain ESP 30
18 2-24.50.6 Jeff Julian New Zealand NZL 24
19 2-24.58.0 Johnny Kelley United States USA 29
20 2-25.02.2 Lee Chang-Hun South Korea KOR 25
21 2-25.40.2 Arnold Vaide Sweden SWE 34
22 2-26.03.0 Gerry McIntyre Ireland IRL 31
23 2-26.33.0 Olavi Manninen Finland FIN 32
24 2-26.38.0 Eino Oksanen Finland FIN 29
25 2-27.00.0 Arthur Keily Great Britain GBR 39
26 2-27.30.0 Tor Torgersen Norway NOR 32
27 2-28.17.0 Myitung Naw Myanmar MYA 26
28 2-28.39.0 Bruno Bartholome Germany GER 33
29 2-28.55.0 Brian Kilby Great Britain GBR 22
30 2-29.38.0 Alex Breckenridge United States USA 28
31 2-29.40.0 Kurao Hiroshima Japan JPN 31
32 2-29.45.0 Kazumi Watanabe Japan JPN 24
33 2-31.18.0 Juan Silva Chile CHI 30
34 2-31.20.0 Alain Mimoun France FRA 39
35 2-31.20.0 Paul Genève France FRA 35
36 2-31.25.0 Frans Künen Netherlands NED 30
37 2-31.32.0 Francesco Perrone Italy ITA 29
38 2-31.54.0 Silvio De Florentis Italy ITA 25
39 2-32.12.0 Linus Diaz Sri Lanka SRI 26
40 2-32.13.0 Lal Chand India IND 32
41 2-32.32.0 Johannes Lauridsen Denmark DEN 29
42 2-33.08.0 Willie Dunne Ireland IRL 26
43 2-34.16.0 Ian Sinfield Australia AUS 25
44 2-34.42.2 Arthur Wittwer Switzerland SUI 32
45 2-35.01.0 Jagmal Singh India IND 37
46 2-35.11.0 Nobuyoshi Sadanaga Japan JPN 31
47 2-35.14.0 Lee Sang-Cheol South Korea KOR 24
48 2-35.16.0 Gordon McKenzie United States USA 33
49 2-35.43.0 Ahmed Labidi Tunisia TUN 38
50 2-36.55.0 Walter Lemos Argentina ARG 30
51 2-37.36.0 Ray Puckett New Zealand NZL 24
52 2-37.40.0 Dolfi Gruber Austria AUT 40
53 2-38.06.0 Antti Viskari Finland FIN 32
54 2-38.46.0 Allan Lawrence Australia AUS 30
55 2-38.46.0 Gord Dickson Canada CAN 28
56 2-40.10.0 Lothar Beckert Germany GER 29
57 2-41.14.0 Günter Havenstein Germany GER 31
58 2-42.59.0 Evert Nyberg Sweden SWE 35
59 2-46.55.2 Kanuti Sum Kenya KEN
60 2-57.06.0 Ranjit Bhatia India IND 24
61 2-59.41.0 Allah Saoudi Morocco MAR
62 3-43.18.0 Alifu Massaquoi Liberia LBR 23
AC DNF Hedi Dhaoui Tunisia TUN 25
AC DNF Vito Di Terlizzi Italy ITA 30
AC DNF Mouldi Essalhi Tunisia TUN 28
AC DNF Gerhart Hecker Hungary HUN 26
AC DNF Kim Yeon-Beom South Korea KOR 25
AC DNF Bertie Messitt Ireland IRL 29
AC DNF Aurèle Vandendriessche Belgium BEL 28
More Details by Marathoninfo
Saturday, September 10 at 17:45 Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 28 years 69 of 35 countries 7 (10.14%)
The Rome Marathon will be remembered as a turning point in the history of the marathon, in fact for the first time a runner from Black Africa won an Olympic marathon. Moreover Bikila was completely unknown at the time of departure, many journalists preferred to laugh times announced for the rider, especially as posing barefoot in the beginning, it was hard to hide a smirk. But if we knew nothing of the Ethiopian, a European he knew well what he was capable, his coach, Swedish Onni Niskanen, we will return. In the race when it was superbly organized, for the first time no motorized vehicle was accepted, and superb idea departure was done in the evening and arrived in the night, the Via Appia is illuminated every 25 meters by torches held by soldiers, like a guard of honor, what a great show !! A huge crowd had gathered on this prestigious route and Italian television for the first time allowed the whole world to enjoy. But who was this Bikila came out of nowhere?

Life Bikila

Abebe Bikila was born in 1932 in Jato, a town 130 km from Addis Ababa. According to tradition, he spent most of his childhood to be a shepherd and study simultaneously. In 1952, young Abebe was hired to be the imperial guard corps. In 1954, he married. 4 children were born of this union.

Abebe Bikila remained imperial guard for a few years before to stand as a quality athlete. He had a "revelation" when he looked Ethiopian athletes scroll to the Melbourne Olympics. Watching these athletes wearing tracksuit with "Ethiope" marked on the back, he decided he would, too, an Olympic athlete.

In 1956, at the age of 24, Abebe participated in the National Championships of the Armed Forces. The hero of the time was Wami Biratu. He held the national records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. During the marathon, the crowd in the stadium expected to see Wami Biratu win the race. In the first kilometers, Wami was leading. After a while, broadcasters informed the crowd that a young unknown named athlete Abebe Bikila was leading. As Abebe was extending his lead, the crowd waited impatiently to see this new sensation. Abebe easily won his first major race. He then beat the records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters Wami Biratu. With these impressive results, Abebe qualified for the Rome Olympics. Finally, Abebe's dream of wearing a tracksuit with "Ethiopia" on the back was realized. Yet as incredible as it may be, it does its selection in the Ethiopian Olympic team that "thanks" to the injury of one of three riders selected beforehand, like what fate sometimes plays an important role.

Going back to Onni Niskanen is in 1959 while residing in Ethiopia and he spotted Bikila became his coach. With Niskanen, innate talent Bikila was soon fully exploited: two months before the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, Bikila won his first marathon in 2h39'50 ", a time that was nothing special; one month later, he gained a second in 2h21'23 '. The weather this time gave him hope some chances at the Olympics. Outside the devotion he showed to mankind (in charge of the Finnish Red Cross), Niskanen had passion like athletics, and he had no equal to sniff out the talent of a runner. What was not his emotion the first time he had seen Bikila running! A jewel in the rough! "I had never seen such a naturally gifted runner for prolonged effort. It's just if his heart rate increased despite the altitude. It was an exceptional case. Bikila was never rarely felt tired and even the need to drink a glass of water after a workout. "

Before leaving for Rome, he had made ​​her do a final test on 32km, Bikila had realized 1h42'36 ", extrapolating were obtained approximately 2:15, which was the fastest time of the day made ​​by the Russian Sergei Popov (2:15 '17 ") that Popov had made ​​on the Windsor-Chiswick course.

the race

Among the favorites of the race so it was the Russian Popov, Argentinian Osvaldo Suarez, and the Moroccan Rhadi that the French would like to see run for their color, in fact it has been the military among Moroccan infantrymen, he been several time cross country champion France in particular. But he ultimately chose the Moroccan jersey.

From the 5th kilometer 4 men stand out: the British Kelly, the Belgian Vandendriessche, and Rhadi Bikila, Popov has already released what is the first surprise of the evening.

It must be said that the train is very fast and some seasoned marathoners think they can come back to this group of unwary. They spend the 15th km in 48'02 ". Three kilometers further accelerates Rhadi Bikila and only manages to follow, this is the beginning of a mano a mano between these two incredible men, no one will indeed be able to return to these two men, one of New Zealand Magee filling a little lost time. Rhadi had a very slim size, with 1m80 for 60kg, his legs seem immense. Bikila measured him 1m75 for 55kg. As the kilometers, Bikila rest impassible. Rhadi trying to speed to give this stranger, but nothing, Bikila really seems at ease. Rhadi decided to simply follow now as we enter the fortieth kilometer.

Truly Bikila and his coach already know when to attack, and the chosen location is not trivial. In Bikila and Niskanen had noticed that effect within a mile of a finish line at the Arch of Constantine, there was the Axis obelisk that was looted by Italian troops and brought back Ethiopia to Rome. It seemed appropriate to use as a benchmark to trigger the final attack saw that there was a slight slope. Nobody would have thought that the Ethiopian would go there except him. As expected, Bikila attacked there, and won his first marathon, under the Arc de Triomphe, where also 25 years ago, Mussolini launched his troops to attack Ethiopia.

He won the Olympic marathon in 2h15'16 "(8 minutes better than the record of the times held by the Polish legend Emil Zatopek). The public and journalists were surprised that he had walked the 42.195 kilometers barefoot! Instead prohibit him from running barefoot, Niskanen had compared the time with shoes and without shoes. Bikila ran faster without shoes and Niskanen had therefore left running barefoot.

After his victory, Bikila modestly declared that "many other riders from the Ethiopian army could win this marathon", but the Tokyo Olympics four years later confirmed that he was a unique marathon. (We will see besides the rest of his life in the next episode of this fabulous history of the Olympics).

On his return, Bikila was welcomed with the highest honors. The King of Kings received him in person. An apartment and a car were offered. We had to correct him. Apart from that Spiridon Louys, no victory was not full of history than his. Soon the old African storytellers begin to weave the legend of "man to run from sunrise to sunset."




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